Eye-catching redheads: The rare mutation that gets all the attention

SİMAY KESKİNTEPE
ISTANBUL
Published
Contrary to common belief, redheads did not originate in Scandinavia, Scotland or Ireland but in central Asia.
Contrary to common belief, redheads did not originate in Scandinavia, Scotland or Ireland but in central Asia.

Redheads are a rare sight to see, yet despite ancient beliefs and prejudices about their personalities and origins, they are no different than the rest of us - except for few genetic mutations

Throughout history, redheads, or "gingers," have been considered irrepressible flames, though they were burned as so-called witches in medieval times and used as slaves in ancient Greece, all due to their stunning and extraordinary genetic mutation. People with ginger, auburn or chestnut locks still mesmerize mankind with their rarity as less than 2 percent of the world's population. Whether we admire or nudge them, mankind has always been curious about natural redheads, maybe because they are different and conspicuous.

Contrary to common belief, redheads did not originate in Scandinavia, Scotland or Ireland but in central Asia. Due to a mutation in the MC1R gene, their coloring fails to produce protective, skin-darkening eumelanin and causes pale skin, freckles and red hair. While our distant ancestors from northern Europe were migrating to settle in more cold and grayish regions, redheads had a signal advantage over their darker peers: Their pale skin is generally more efficient and produces vitamin D more efficiently from wan sunlight, strengthening their bones and also making women more likely to survive pregnancy and childbirth. The gene has always been recessive and thrives mainly in remote regions and closer communities such as Ireland, Scotland and the coastal regions of Scandinavia. Worldwide, red hair is quite rare, less than 2 percent of the population, amounting to almost 140 million people worldwide. In Ireland, an estimated 10 percent of the population has red hair, though about 40 percent of the Irish carry the recessive gene; in Scotland and England, 13 percent and 6 percent, respectively, are redheaded, according to the Daily Mail.

My sister has strawberry-blond hair now, but in her younger years, her hair was so red we called her "little peach." The sad thing is - for me, because I do adore her - I have always had auburn. My grandpa was a ginger when he was a child, and surprisingly my dad's beard has tiny little ginger highlights when it gets longer. When I look back in my family tree, red hair pops up here and there in siblings and grandparents, but there's no real pattern. We all have white skin, fair hair and both colorful and brown eyes. Where are the redheads? According to chief scientist at BritainsDNA Dr. Jim Wilson's comment on the Huffington Post: "The gene for red hair is recessive, so a person needs two copies of that gene for it to show up or be expressed. That means, even if both parents carry the gene, just one in four of their children are likely to turn out to be a redhead. As a result, families that have no redheads for decades can suddenly discover a carrot top in their midst."

But sadly, I should inform you that red hair is on the verge of extinction.

Mix of genetics and culture

Redheads are not that rare, but they still tend to be easy targets. In the ancient world, redheads were famous for their aggression.

The Scythians and the Thracians from the Black Sea to the Aegean were mostly redheaded and, the Greeks and the Romans enslaved most of them. The enslaved redheaded warriors were associated with toughness and fearlessness during Roman battles when Rome tried to expand to the north, and they fought with the ruddy Celts.

The Norse god Odin, the father and ruler of the gods of Asgard, was described as being a thoughtful ruler with his blonde hair, while with his red hair and enormous red beard, his son Thor was known for his quick temper. The Vikings weren't the most polite conquerors and their reputation for violence is associated with their red hair, which is not surprising.

There is an old belief that if a redhead is the first person to enter your home on the first day of the year, they'll bring bad luck. Come on... how can these gorgeous beings bring you bad luck?

A day in the life of a ginger

There is plenty of fiction associated with a redhead's personality. Some things people think make up a redhead's personality are all related to their fiery mane. Bad tempers, hotheadedness mixed with bold and brash behavior are all qualities blamed on being redheaded. In reality, none of those traits are exclusively redhead traits.

I asked my ginger sister and ginger friends about being a redhead. Their white skin and bright hair get looks where ever they go. I love that; they have a natural, inborn bonhomie.

I had some questions for the redheads I know; one of them is Öykü Dikmen, a strawberry blonde. She is my childhood friend and has the most spirit of anyone I know. I was curious about their childhoods and relationships with people. Dikmen said: "There were only two redheads in my school. Whenever I was naughty, even if they didn't know about me, teachers and principals would directly point at me. My friends have always called me 'orange,' and I love that! Being a redhead always draws attention to me and for me that is what makes me more enterprising and makes me a girl who doesn't mind extra attention. It has become my identity over time because own my personality is directly related to my red hair."

Dikmen studied in Spanish a medieval town. "My roommate was scared of ghosts. It was fun to scare her. One day she turned me and said: 'If the ghosts are real, they believe you are a witch!' I laughed a lot when I heard it. In the medieval times, it was believed that redheads were witches or wizards. They were often burned at the stake."

My sister complains about being a ginger - though sometimes, she appreciates her hair and freckles. Mostly, it is because she doesn't like unwanted attention. "Something that is different in

society always attracts attention. Because of this, as a shy person, I think that it is pretty uncomfortable for me when I feel eyes on me," she said. I have always adored her, but it has never been a "there is an elephant in the room" situation for us. She was like a Disney princesses for me when I was a little girl.

International Redhead Day

Have you heard about festivals and special days for gingers? Well, I told you, they are full of personality. The first weekend of September in Breda, Germany there is a festival for redheads. I would love to attend one of these festivals someday with my favorite gingers.

They always shine like the sun, and when they smile their freckles lights up like stars. Their mystical beauty has always drawn me in. I wish I had been born with red hair on my head; the second child in my family won the lottery: Redhead genes. If you are curious about your growing family's hair color, there is a quick test for that. According to Daily Mail UK, Dr. Jim Wilson, chief scientist at BritainsDNA, the ancestry company behind the test, said: "Ancestry can be determined through a simple saliva test. We can also identify whether an individual is a carrier of any of the three common redhead variants in the gene MC1R. This means that families can carry a variant for generations, and when one carrier has children with another carrier, a redheaded baby can appear seemingly out of nowhere."

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